An indictment in the temple – 26th Sunday in ordinary time – Matthew 21: 28-32
Jesus has entered Jerusalem (Luke 21:1) and cleanses the temple (21:12). He then makes his way to Bethany for the night (Luke21:17) and the next morning on the way to the temple curses the fig tree as a sign of judgment to the religious leaders of Israel. He enters the temple for the second time only to have the authority behind his actions questioned by the chief priests and the elders. In response he narrates a trilogy of parables called the parables of judgment (21:28-22:14). We are in the first of the three parables of judgment.
When Jesus was asked to explain his authority, he turned the tables confronting the religious leaders of their acceptance to the people-popular message of John the Baptist. The religious establishment would dare not deny the efficaciousness of John’s mission for that would not go down well with the masses. However, to accept his mission would be to accept Jesus as the Messiah, and the Chief priest and elders would rather hang themselves than admit to such a truth. Their response to Jesus’ question is “we do not know.”
So, Jesus takes his case to the masses with verse 28 when he begins the first parable by saying, “what do you think?”. In doing this Jesus is eliciting a religious response and even a judgment on the religious leaders by the crowds. The ones who should have been able to answer are unable to. It’s an indictment in the temple.
The parable of the two sons which is unique to Matthew has similarities in the parable of the prodigal son. Sons in the Bible, as in life, seem to have some sort of antagonism if not sharp difference. A case in point is Cane and Able if not Jacob and Esau and Joseph and his brothers.
It is in the ‘vineyard’ that the father asks his son to labour in. The vineyard, was an image in the Jewish memory, that was bound to the reality of Israel. So, the sons are allegorically sent to labour for the good of Israel. Both the sons are representative of God’s children, yet God’s children make choices. It is their actions not words that define if they are truly the children of God.
In the example of the first son, Jesus presents a motely socially and religiously rejected group of tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes. They at first rejected the call of the father to labour for Israel by the lifestyle choices they make, yet it is they who have a change of heart and do the will of the father. In opposition to them stand the chief priests and elders, they seem to be smooth but in reality are unreliable daddy pleasers. They commit themselves to the task at hand to labour for Israel but in reality do nothing.
It is the people of Israel who are now called upon to pass judgment and choosing wisely they reject the Chief priests and elders over those traditionally considered sinners. It is no wonder that the Jewish authorities plot the downfall of Jesus. Previously, when he entered Jerusalem, he was hailed by one of the many Messianic titles, ‘son of David’.
The very word Hosanna means ‘come and save us.’ In 21:14 this cry is not only an acclamation of the adults but of children too. The message of Jesus has gone viral and causes the religious establishment to lose their cool. They were genuinely worried that words such as this would incite rebellion and upset the Pax Romani incurring the full wrath of the Romans with whom they were in league with. What they never understood was that the authority of Jesus was not one of dominance but rather healing and reconciliation.
Jesus has made his stance clear; all talk and no work is not his mantra. The image of repentant tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners marching into heaven should be embedded into our grey cells. They who we have rejected were the ones who actually fulfilled the will of God.
Which son am I ?
Fr Warner D’souza